Bergenfield--The only Shomer Shabbos member of the Bergenfield wrestling team, 10-year-old Z.J. Karasik (an RYNJ student), says wrestling is, “Perfect for an active boy.”
Dr. Bradley Karasik, Z.J.’s dad, says his son knew going in that missing matches was part of the deal. “There was no push back from him. He knows we don’t wrestle on Shabbos.” While he would like to be part of the matches, Z.J. still feels like part of the team and is content with the arrangement. Fortunately, Z.J. is able to attend a few sponsored tournaments each year and is eligible for the regional and district tournaments, all of which take place on Sundays.
Z.J. easily accepts that he won’t attend the matches. “I don’t miss it because I know in two days’ time I’ll go back [to practice].” The team typically practices from 6-8 on Tuesday and Thursday (and sometimes Monday).
Z.J. didn’t start out as a wrestler. He tried team sports such as soccer and baseball, however, he didn’t enjoy them. He found them boring, and wanted more action. Wrestling also happens to run in the family. Dr. Karasik wrestled in high school and briefly in college before suffering a knee injury. However, Dr. Karasik didn’t necessarily encourage his son to wrestle. He and his wife did want Z.J. to play a sport and were prepared to look for one that their son enjoyed. Z.J., however, suggested wrestling. After all, he had heard many stories about wrestling from his dad, and “it sounded like fun.”
Despite his religious observance, Z.J. has run into zero issues. He says most of his teammates realize he is Jewish because his head is covered at all times (except when he is actually wrestling). One of his teammates was curious and asked Z.J, “Are you Jewish?” A simple response of “yes” ended the conversation. Z.J. gets along well with his teammates and has made some friends along the way despite the limited time for talk. Dr. Karasik is happy to be part of the league. “It’s is so nice to be part of such a diverse environment. Being part of the team makes you feel like being part of the community.”
The Bergenfield team has approximately 20 kids ranging from 1st grade to middle school. There are four to five coaches plus the head coach, Ed Volmer. Coach Volmer, like all the others in the program, resides in Bergenfield. In fact, Z.J. sees Coach Volmer every Shabbos; the Karasik’s pass the coach’s house on their way to and from shul. Z.J. calls out to the coach and if he is home, Volmer will make time to chat. It’s no surprise then that Coach Volmer was happy to have someone from the Orthodox community join the team, and wishes for more.
Dr. Karasik is now part of the team as well. He was asked to coach the team and was happy to be able to accept. He says practice is particularly important when it comes to wrestling. “We make sure practice is fun, but we also need to make sure the wrestlers are ready and able to compete.” In practice, you might be matched against someone who is better than you and therefore get pinned–repeatedly. In such a circumstance, it’s easy to quit and stop resisting. Yet, this is a learning experience. “When a wrestler is feeling overwhelmed, we ask him, ‘What can you take away from the experience and how can you grow from it,’” says Dr. Karasik. He continues, “Once a wrestler feels he’s hit his peak–when he thinks he have nothing left in the tank, that’s when he challenges himself to keep improving.”
At approximately 4’5,” Z.J. is on the short side. However, size does not matter in wrestling. Wrestlers face off against each other based on weight, which in Z.J.’s case is 63 pounds. “Using your body, mind and instincts all at once,” is the key to wrestling according to Z.J. He adds, “I have good reflexes, and this teaches me how to use them.”
When a match is taking place, the pressure rises and one must think ahead. Z.J. says this is challenging. During one match, Z.J. used the first moved he learned: the single leg take down. “It’s the most important move in wrestling.”
Dr. Karasik agrees that wrestling is a challenging sport. “Mind, body and soul need to work in sync.”
While that may sound easy to some, it’s actually very challenging. And taking this challenge may not be for everyone. For Z.J., wrestling has been a great experience with many positives. “It boosts my confidence.”
If you are considering signing up your son for the team, Z.J. has some advice for him: “You should join. It can help you learn good techniques, and it helps your coordination and reflexes. And it’s fun.”
By Larry Bernstein